Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Baja California’s recipe for saving fishing communities

Matthew W. Chwastyk, NGM staff
sources: Juan Bezaury-Creel, The Nature Conservancy; Jorge Urbán Ramírez, Laguna San Ignacio ecosystem science program; Jeffrey Seminoff, NOAA; Erik Vance; the state of the world’s sea turtles

From National Geographic by Erik Vence & Thomas P. Peschak (photos)

As fish populations crash elsewhere, towns limit catches to stabilize harvests, boost tourism, and preserve a way of life.

It’s a half hour before sunrise, and the ocean appears inky black as it slaps against the sand.
A dozen fishermen are lounging in the boat master’s office in Punta Abreojos, laughing and talking about the party they’ll have that night.

 Baja California with the GeoGarage platform (NGA chart)

The mood is festive in this hamlet at the midpoint of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula because today is a day the town looks forward to all year long—the opening of abalone season.
Actually the season opened four months earlier, but Punta Abreojos observes an unusual self-imposed ban.
Rather than fish for abalone as soon as the government allows, in January, the community waits until April, when the shellfish have put on more weight.

I head out into the Pacific Ocean with three fishermen in their 50s who have been working together since they were teenagers.
“Horse” runs the engine, “Mole” hauls up the bags of abalones, and “Fish,” naturally, is the diver.
(They are Porfirio Zúñiga, Eduardo Liera, and Luis Arce, but no one here calls them that.)

Fish is in especially high spirits—he’s just returned from Pebble Beach, California, where he surfed and played golf.
His buddies poke fun at him as he slips into a crisp new wet suit.
The sun is up, and the water has turned from black to deep blue.
Before they arrive at their fishing spot, Horse stops the boat over a reef crawling with abalones.
“Those are the green abalone,” Mole says.
“They won’t be ready for a month at least.”

A great white shark swims in the Isla Guadalupe Biosphere Reserve, 160 miles off Baja California.
As one of two places in the world where these sharks congregate in clear water, it’s a magnet for adventurous dive tourists.
Ecotourism in Baja brings hundreds of millions of dollars to Mexico.

A few miles later Fish hops into the water.
Within two hours he’s hit the catch limit and comes up with a smile and a bag full of healthy abalones.
In most fishing towns in Mexico—or in much of the rest of the developing world, for that matter—men like these would be pulling a meager catch out of depleted waters, living hand to mouth.
What makes these men so optimistic about the season ahead?
How can they afford new gear and vacations at elite golf courses?

The town’s fishing cooperative started in 1948 and for years operated like others—taking as much from the sea as it could.
But in the 1970s, after a few disappointing harvests, the fishermen decided to try something new.
They would manage the lobster (and later the abalone) for the long term instead of immediate profits.

Today Abreojos and a few like-minded Baja communities following the same strategy catch more than 90 percent of Mexico’s abalones.
Houses in Abreojos are freshly painted.
The town has a baseball team and a surfing team.
The lobster and abalone are canned at a modern processing plant and sold directly to Asia, maximizing profits.
The town’s waters are guarded using radar, boats, and planes.
Retired fishermen collect pensions.

Perhaps no one better reflects this success than 67-year-old Zacarías Zúñiga.
His father helped found the cooperative yet struggled to make his daily catch.
Zúñiga works as a quality control specialist in the cannery.
Thanks to a scholarship to college offered by the cooperative, his son is a computer science professor.
“We all work, and at the same time we all are owners,” he says.

Punta Abreojos is not the only success story in this part of Mexico.
Around the world, fish populations are crashing, and species such as tuna, turtle, and grouper are ever more scarce.
Yet, in northwestern Mexico, a few communities have managed to protect their underwater resources.
These micro-conservation areas were created by or with the support of the communities, which many environmentalists see as the key to conservation that works.
How they did it holds lessons for the world’s fishing communities.

Octavio Aburto dives near Isla Espíritu Santo, in the Gulf of California.
The marine biologist studies why some reserves succeed and others fail.
He’s found the secret is in the community that lives there.
“You start creating pride,” he says, “a commitment to recovery.”

The history of Baja fishing is a saga of booms and busts.
When author John Steinbeck visited the peninsula in 1940, he marveled at the incredible biodiversity—huge schools of manta rays, beds of pearl oysters, and so many turtles that older people here say you could cross the sea walking on their shells.
But within a couple decades, man had found the limits, decimating the wild oyster beds.
After that he turned to turtles, tuna, sharks, groupers, and a dozen other species.

The Mexican government, making things worse, for decades encouraged unemployed workers to become fishermen in a program called March to the Sea.
In southern Baja, which didn’t become a Mexican state until 1974, this led to a lone-cowboy culture that persists.

“People are used to doing things on their own,” says Octavio Aburto, a marine biologist with Scripps Institution of Oceanography who has studied Baja fisheries for 20 years.
“They are not expecting the government to do things.”
A native of Mexico City, Aburto first came to the region in the 1990s and fell in love with its congenial fishing culture and beguiling underwater safari.

In the late 1980s the waters around the Islas Revillagigedo were being targeted by commercial fishing.
In 1994 the Mexican government made the area a reserve, and in 2007 sport fishing was outlawed.
Today whitetip reef sharks, which have nearly vanished elsewhere, gather here by the dozens.

After decades of overfishing, though, the region was seeing fishery collapse of target species as families moved from camp to camp chasing the remaining fish.
In a few places small communities began to devise ways to maintain their resources.
Eventually their ideas spread.

From these scattered success stories, five rules emerge as the key to sustainable, community-supported ocean management.
First, like Abreojos, it helps if the site is fairly isolated, with just a community or two using it.
Second, the community needs a resource of high value, such as lobster or abalone.
Strong, visionary community leaders are the third necessity.
Fourth, fishermen need a way to support themselves while the resources recover.
And, lastly, the community must be bound together by trust.

Many Baja tour operators once made a living from fishing.
Dive operators in Cabo Pulmo are now trying to convince shark fishermen working near the national park (shown here) to go into tourism as a way to enlist them in protecting the ecosystem.

In Baja several communities besides Abreojos illustrate the importance of these rules.
One remarkable example of a high-value resource can be seen—and touched—in Laguna San Ignacio, a few miles down the coast.

In 1972, according to local legend, Francisco “Pachico” Mayoral was fishing in his usual spot in the lagoon.
As fishermen did in that region, he carried an oar to bang against the boat whenever a gray whale swam too close.
Gray whales, everyone thought, were dangerous creatures capable of snapping a boat in half.
Before long, one sidled up to his boat.
Perhaps it was curiosity or daring, but for some reason Mayoral reached out to touch it.
The whale leaned in and allowed him to stroke its smooth, spongy skin.
And in that moment a cottage industry was born.
By the late 1980s Mayoral and other fishermen were guiding tourists to the whales by the dozens.

Today whale-watching is among the most important economic activities in the region, with ecotourism lodges now dotting the shoreline.
Incredibly the gray whales and their calves still cuddle up to boats, though no one is sure why.

Just as incredible is how the people there have managed it.
Unlike Bahía Magdalena to the south, where guides chase down the animals in free-for-all whale-petting hunts, San Ignacio limits the number of boats on the water to around 16.
Fishing in the lagoon is banned during the whale-watching season, so the whales have some peace and quiet with their young offspring.

The preservation of this natural estuary does more than protect the whales; it also protects crucial nursery habitats for fish and invertebrates.
In the mid-1990s Mitsubishi tried to build a saltworks near the mouth of the lagoon that could have had a deleterious effect on the ecosystem.
The community, with the help of environmental organizations, mobilized a fierce campaign to block the project and eventually succeeded.

I head into the bay on a 24-foot panga with tourists hoping to have the absurdly unique experience of petting a whale.
Roberto Fischer, the fisherman taking us on the water, warns that there’s no guarantee we will touch or even see a whale.
They must choose to come to us; we aren’t allowed to chase them.
A few hundred yards off, a warden paid by the community eyes us to make sure we follow the rules.
Suddenly a whale spout appears and a jolt of excitement rocks the boat.
“I see it! Did you see it?” shouts a tourist.
Timidly a mother gray whale comes over to inspect us.
Her calf approaches less timidly, and soon it’s popping up on either side of the boat as the tourists cautiously stick out their hands.
The mother joins in, and a third also takes a passing interest.
“It’s whale soup!” Fischer says.
There’s a time for journalistic detachment.
But when a young whale leans up against your boat and opens its mouth, seemingly wanting to be petted, that is not such a time.
I reach out my hand and touch the soft, knobby skin and then, astonishingly, pet its tongue.
The massive creature looks at the dumbfounded writer and slides back into the water.

Nowhere is the third rule of successful marine conservation—the need for visionary leaders—more evident than in Cabo Pulmo.
In the 1980s it was a backwater fishing village near the tip of Baja.
Too small and poor to afford ice machines to cool fish and to maintain roads to get them to market, Cabo Pulmo supported just a few fishermen, some of whom worked the reef—the only true coral one in the Gulf of California—just offshore.
In the mid-1980s, locals say, biologists visited and loaned the fishermen a diving mask.
What they saw alarmed them—pockmarks from their anchors and overturned coral heads everywhere.
And very few fish.
“We saw the reef like it was our own garden.
But not like an ecosystem,” says Judith Castro, a community leader.
“The fishermen didn’t know about the damage they were doing."

Ocean life figures prominently in Baja history.
Pre-Hispanic cultures painted rays, sharks, dolphins, tuna, and seals in the remote canyons of the Sierra de San Francisco mountain range
Today these animals play an important role in tourism in places like Mexico’s Archipiélago de Revillagigedo Biosphere Reserve, in the Pacific Ocean about 240 miles southwest of Baja’s southern tip.
Divers there see sights like a manta ray being cleaned by Clarion angelfish.

In the early 1990s Castro’s brother Mario, a fisherman and diver, and Tito Mijares, a bar owner, led Cabo Pulmo’s fishermen to make a bold decision to support a marine reserve.
By 1995 most fishing was forbidden in a 27-square-mile area, creating a legal no-take reserve—the only well-enforced one in the region.
It’s not big, but it turns out you don’t need much space to bring back an ocean community.
Today Cabo Pulmo National Park has two to three times more biomass than in 2000 and a vibrant economy now based on diving tourism.

If your community boasts the area’s only coral reef or a pod of affection-hungry whales, developing a tourism model is an excellent way to save a threatened ecosystem.
But not every fishing village has that luxury.
Besides, tourism doesn’t create many jobs.
In San Ignacio it supports only about 200 people and only for a few months a year.
Then they go back to fishing.

This brings up the fourth rule.
For conservation to work, fishermen need a way to make money while they wait for their resource to recover.
And the conservation efforts need manpower.
To this end the community of El Manglito—on the estuary that borders the city of La Paz—has adopted an interesting strategy.

Fishermen once harvested shellfish with abandon from the broad, shallow bay west of town.
By 2009 very few were left.
With financial support from Noroeste Sustentable, a nonprofit in La Paz, the fishermen—many of whom had turned to poaching—stopped fishing and began managing their resources.
They were paid to watch for poachers and to do biological surveys estimating the amount of shellfish, now mostly a scallop-like creature called callo de hacha.
The first survey estimated that fewer than 100,000 shellfish were left.
Today it’s more like 2.3 million.
“It’s always said that fishermen are the ones that destroy species, but not anymore.
The sea has already given a lot.
Now we give something back,” says Antonio “Chiflo” Méndez, a fisherman.

El Manglito and Noroeste Sustentable did a lot right to bring the fishery back to life.
But most important, the fishermen guarding or assessing the resource received salaries while the shellfish recovered.
Paying them turned them from fishermen into professional environmental stewards.

The ocean provides an incredible bounty for Baja.
The Nature Conservancy estimates that nature-based marine tourism in Baja California Sur alone generates $300 million a year and supports more than 2,000 jobs.
Tourists in Laguna San Ignacio gape at a gray whale.
Manta Trust marine biologist Guy Stevens measures himself against a manta ray in the Islas Revillagigedo reserve, where a 100-square-mile expansion has been proposed.
The last rule is perhaps the hardest to follow.
For conservation to work, community cohesion and trust are essential.
In places such as Abreojos and El Manglito, locals enforce the fishing bans when it comes to outsiders, but there is also a fundamental presumption that people in the community will play by the rules.

In rural Baja, trust in one’s neighbor can be hard to find, but it’s possible to create it.
At least that’s what a conservation organization called Niparajá, based in La Paz, is betting on.
Niparajá works on sustainable fisheries in an especially desolate region of southeastern Baja, along the Loreto–La Paz corridor.
Along the ragged shorelines and breathtaking vistas there are few people and even fewer roads.
But those isolated fishing communities overlook some of the best unprotected habitat in the region.

When Niparajá started working in those communities, it didn’t focus on fishing.
Instead it promoted soccer tournaments.
“How do you start building trust?” asks Amy Hudson Weaver, who coordinates the program.
“You don’t start by talking about fishing.
You’ve got to be like, Is this guy going to kick me in the shin, or is he going to respect the rules? Is he someone I can trust?”

Sponsoring soccer tournaments in tiny towns might seem like a waste of time and money, but it slowly built trust between villages that have jealously guarded fishing grounds from each other.
Next Niparajá took some fishermen to Cabo Pulmo to see the impact a fishing ban can have on ocean life.
Eventually, after years of discussions, the villages decided to try conservation.
Each selected a small area and agreed not to fish in it for five years.
The areas are not big—the largest is just under three square miles—but it was a start.

A northern elephant seal pup peers into the camera near Isla Guadalupe while other juveniles play nearby.
Reserves create sanctuaries where once nearly extinct species can reproduce.
How to maximize this ability to restock populations is a key question in ocean conservation today.

“The idea is to have like a savings account,” says José Manuel Rondero, a 35-year-old fisherman who has watched lobster and fish populations plummet.

To monitor the reserves, Niparajá struck on a clever idea.
Each year it charters a research vessel for a trip down a 60-mile stretch of the corridor with biology students, government scientists, and fishermen from each community.

Rondero rolls his eyes when told I’ll be trailing him.
We drop into the water near a steep underwater slope.
Many of the fishermen on the boat have dived in the Cabo Pulmo reserve, but several tell me they were unimpressed.
Sure, there are a lot of fish, but nothing compared with what the corridor could have.

I see what they mean.
The countless nooks and boulders are perfect habitat.
Rondero takes out a tape measure, pulls it out 30 meters, and swims along it with a clipboard, counting fish one way and invertebrates the other.
Then he sits and counts all the fish in his field of view.

Baja communities employ different strategies to make a living from the ocean’s resources.
Some rely on tourism, including a former fisherman in Bahía Magdalena who takes visitors to see sharks, whales, and pelicans diving for fish.

Magdalena has suffered from failed conservation efforts, whereas to the north the people of Punta Abreojos carefully manage their resources for high-value products like abalone and lobster.

The totals are a little dismal—a few lone fish and some urchins.
Once we are out of the water, Rondero explains that this no-fishing zone is small and very new.
In the bigger ones he’s seen biodiversity increase in just a couple of years, from a few goatfish to huge groupers, grunts, and parrotfish.
A few miles north of here, one marine reserve has blossomed recently, and the communities have decided to expand it.
“This year is better than all of the past years I’ve seen,” he says.
“I’m seeing it very replenished. Lots of fish.”

From a scientific perspective, this research is crucial.
The five largest protected areas on Earth are marine parks, and ocean life rebounds within their borders.
But what kinds of habitats yield the best ecological results? How big must a park be to make a difference on the surrounding areas?

The corridor’s tiny reserves are the perfect place to answer these questions.
But these trips also serve an equally important outreach role.
In Baja, as in most of Mexico, few trust the government, and many view conservation efforts as shadowy conspiracies.
But in the corridor each community hears back from fishermen who have worked alongside marine biologists.
At night, after grueling days of swimming transects, fishermen, scientists, and government employees hang out together, talking and laughing.
Whenever he returns from the research vessel, Rondero says, his community peppers him with questions.

Whale sharks frequent the bays around La Paz, perhaps attracted by the calm, shallow water.
Their appearance just offshore is as steady as clockwork.
Today researcher Dení Ramírez Macías of Whale Shark Mexico calculates that whale shark tourism brings an estimated $1.3 million to the local economy.
In fact, the tourist boats in La Paz sometimes outnumber the whale sharks.

“I have a lifetime of great fishing experiences,” he says, sitting on the boat one evening.
“I’m proud to be a fisherman.
The community has many needs, but we live happily here.”

Gazing across the water at the stunning coastline, I ask whether he wants his daughter to marry a fisherman.
He pauses and then smiles.
“No. I’d like her to be a marine biologist—and do the sort of work I am doing right now.”

Links :

Monday, August 21, 2017

Brazil DHN update in the GeoGarage platform

68 nautical raster charts

How hackers are targeting the shipping industry

Breaking into a shipping firm's computer systems could allow attackers to access all kinds of sensitive information 
Fidra Cyber Security 

From BBC by Chris Baraniuk

When staff at CyberKeel investigated email activity at a medium-sized shipping firm, they made a shocking discovery.
"Someone had hacked into the systems of the company and planted a small virus," explains co-founder Lars Jensen.
"They would then monitor all emails to and from people in the finance department."

Whenever one of the firm's fuel suppliers would send an email asking for payment, the virus simply changed the text of the message before it was read, adding a different bank account number.
"Several million dollars," says Mr Jensen, were transferred to the hackers before the company cottoned on.

After the NotPetya cyber-attack in June, major firms including shipping giant Maersk were badly affected.
In fact, Maersk revealed this week that the incident could cost it as much as $300 million (£155 million) in profits.

But Mr Jensen has long believed that that the shipping industry needs to protect itself better against hackers - the fraud case dealt with by CyberKeel was just another example.
The firm was launched more than three years ago after Mr Jensen teamed up with business partner Morten Schenk, a former lieutenant in the Danish military who Jensen describes as "one of those guys who could hack almost anything".
They wanted to offer penetration testing - investigative tests of security - to shipping companies.
The initial response they got, however, was far from rosy.
"I got pretty consistent feedback from people I spoke to and that was, 'Don't waste your time, we're pretty safe, there's no need'," he recalls.

Today, that sentiment is becoming rarer.
The consequences of suffering from the NotPetya cyber-attack for Maersk included the shutting down of some port terminals managed by its subsidiary APM.

 CargoSmart has pulled together a Vessel Monitoring Dashboard to monitor vessels during this time of recovery from the cyber attack.

The industry is now painfully aware that physical shipping operations are vulnerable to digital disruption.
Breaking into a shipping firm's computer systems can allow attackers to access sensitive information.
One of the most serious cases that has been made public concerns a global shipping conglomerate that was hacked by pirates.
They wanted to find out which vessels were transporting the particular cargo they planned to seize.

A report on the case by the cyber-security team at telecoms company Verizon describes the precision of the operation.
"They'd board a vessel, locate by barcode specific sought-after crates containing valuables, steal the contents of that crate - and that crate only - and then depart the vessel without further incident," it states.

  The control systems on ships are often connected to the internet

But ships themselves, increasingly computerised, are vulnerable too.
And for many, that's the greatest worry.

Malware, including NotPetya and many other strains, is often designed to spread from computer to computer on a network.
That means that connected devices on board ships are also potentially vulnerable.
"We know a cargo container, for example, where the switchboard shut down after ransomware found its way on the vessel," says Patrick Rossi who works within the ethical hacking group at independent advisory organisation DNV GL.
He explains that the switchboard manages power supply to the propeller and other machinery on board.
The ship in question, moored at a port in Asia, was rendered inoperable for some time, adds Mr Rossi.

Seizing the controls

Crucial navigation systems such as the Electronic Chart Display (Ecdis) have also been hit.
One such incident is recalled by Brendan Saunders, maritime technical lead at cyber-security firm NCC Group.

This also concerned a ship at an Asian port, but this time it was a large tanker weighing 80,000 tonnes.
One of the crew had brought a USB stick on board with some paperwork that needed to be printed.
That was how the malware got into the ship's computers in the first instance.
But it was when a second crew member went to update the ship's charts before sailing, also via USB, that the navigation systems were infected.

Malware can hit a ship's navigation systems 

Departure was consequently delayed and an investigation launched.
"Ecdis systems pretty much never have anti-virus," says Mr Saunders, pointing out the vulnerability.
"I don't think I've ever encountered a merchant ship Ecdis unit that had anti-virus on it."

These incidents are hugely disruptive to maritime businesses, but truly catastrophic scenarios might involve a hacker attempting to sabotage or even destroy a ship itself, through targeted manipulation of its systems.

Could that happen?
Could, for example, a determined and well-resourced attacker alter a vessel's systems to provoke a collision?
"It's perfectly feasible," says Mr Saunders.
"We've demonstrated proof-of-concept that that could happen."

And the experts are finding new ways into ships' systems remotely.
One independent cyber-security researcher, who goes by the pseudonym of x0rz, recently used an app called Ship Tracker to find open satellite communication systems, VSat, on board vessels.
In x0rz's case, the VSat on an actual ship in South American waters had default credentials - the username "admin" and password "1234" - and so was easy to access.
It would be possible, x0rz believes, to change the software on the VSat to manipulate it.

A targeted attack could even alter the co-ordinates broadcast by the system, potentially allowing someone to spoof the position of the ship - although shipping industry experts have pointed out in the past that a spoofed location would likely be quickly spotted by maritime observers.

The manufacturer behind the VSat unit in question has blamed the customer in this case for not updating the default security credentials.
The unit has since been secured.

Safe at sea

It's obvious that the shipping industry, like many others, has a lot of work to do on such issues.
But awareness is growing.

The Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) have both recently launched guidelines designed to help ship owners protect themselves from hackers.
Patrick Rossi points out that crew with a poor understanding of the risks they take with USB sticks or personal devices should be made aware of how malware can spread between computers.
This is all the more important because the personnel on board vessels can change frequently, as members go on leave or are reassigned.

Commercial ships carry 90% of the world's trade 

But there are more than 51,000 commercial ships in the world.
Together, they carry the vast majority - 90% - of the world's trade.
Maersk has already experienced significant disruption thanks to a piece of particularly virulent malware.
The question many will be asking in the wake of this and other cases now being made public is: What might happen next?

Links :

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Total solar eclipse 21 August

What determines when we have an eclipse?
Why are eclipses rare? The moon's orbit wobbles.
Sometimes the moon's shadow is too high above the Earth. Sometimes it is too low. Other times, it is just right.

During the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, the Moon's shadow will pass over all of North America. The path of the umbra, where the eclipse is total, stretches from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina.
This will be the first total solar eclipse visible in the contiguous United States in 38 years.

During those brief moments when the moon completely blocks the sun’s bright face for 2 + minutes, day will turn into night, making visible the otherwise hidden solar corona, the sun’s outer atmosphere. Bright stars and planets will become visible as well.
This is truly one of nature’s most awesome sights.

The eclipse provides a unique opportunity to study the sun, Earth, moon and their interaction because of the eclipse’s long path over land coast to coast.
Scientists will be able to take ground-based and airborne observations over a period of an hour and a half to complement the wealth of data provided by NASA assets.
2017 Total Solar Eclipse - Ways to Watch

The geography of the great solar eclipse of July 14 1748, exhibiting an accurate map of all parts of the Earth in which it will be visible, with the North Pole, according to the latest discoveries 
other map of the solar eclipse in 1748

Links :

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Did you know the first ever ‘Admiralty’ chart was produced by the UKHO over 200 years ago?

Sketch of the road on the NE side of the Island Houat in Quiberon Bay by Thomas Moore
(map oriented SW up)
Published Nov. 1800

extract from : Alexander Dalrymple (1737-1808), hydrographer to the East India Company and the Admiralty, as publisher: a catalogue of books and charts, by Andrew Stanley Cook (source : core.ac.uk)
Dalrymple 'was desired to look out for Engravers &c.' and a press was in place later in the same year.
The list of charts and plans 'fit to be engraved' has not survived, but it is generally accepted that the first plate printed at the Hydrographical Office was Moore's plan of the island Houat in Quiberon Bay, with a date of November 1800 (catalogue B904 001100 Houat)

 Houat island in the GeoGarage platform (SHOM chart)

Neptune françois the first nautical atlas published in France in 1693
7e carte particuliere des costes de Bretagne

from Morbihan archives

 zoom from above
Carte de Belle-Isle et les Isles d'Houat et d'Hedic / Bellin -- 1764 -- BNF
see Rumsey collection : I /II

The Coast of Bretagne from the Penmarks to port Douelan (1702-1707)
 with zoom on Houat from Samuel Thornton
NY Public Library
Links :

Friday, August 18, 2017

Canada CHS update in the GeoGarage platform

99 nautical raster charts updated

Total eclipse, partial failure: Scientific expeditions don’t always go as planned

Have telescopes, will travel: English astronomers await an 1871 eclipse in India.
The Illustrated London News, 1872

From The Conversation by Barabara Ryden

For centuries, astronomers have realized that total solar eclipses offer a valuable scientific opportunity.
During what’s called totality, the opaque moon completely hides the bright photosphere of the sun – its thin surface layer that emits most of the sun’s light.
An eclipse allows astronomers to study the sun’s colorful outer atmosphere and its delicate extended corona, ordinarily invisible in the dazzling light of the photosphere.

With most of the sun’s light blotted out, an eclipse lets astronomers see some of its dimmer extended features (NASA)

But total solar eclipses are infrequent, and are visible only from a narrow path of totality.
So eclipse expeditions require meticulous advance planning to ensure that astronomers and their equipment wind up in the right place at the right time.
As the history of astronomy shows, things don’t always go according to plan for even the most prepared eclipse hunters.

Into hostile territory, at the mercy of the map

Samuel Williams, the newly appointed professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Harvard College, was eager to observe a total solar eclipse.
He’d seen a transit of Venus in 1769, but had never had the chance to study the sun’s corona during an eclipse.
According to his calculations, a total solar eclipse would be visible from Maine’s Penobscot Bay on Oct. 27, 1780.

But reaching Maine from Massachusetts would be something of a problem; the Revolutionary War was raging, and Maine was held by the British Army.
The Massachusetts legislature came to Williams’ assistance; it directed the state’s Board of War to fit out a ship to convey the eclipse hunters.
Speaker of the House John Hancock wrote to the British commander in Maine, requesting permission for the men of science to make their observations.
When the astronomer-laden ship arrived at Penobscot Bay, Williams and his team were permitted to land but restricted to the island of Isleboro, three miles offshore from the mainland.

The morning of the big day was cloudless.
As the calculated moment of totality approached, at half past noon, the excitement built.
The sliver of uneclipsed sun became narrower and narrower.

Then, at 12:31 p.m., it started becoming wider and wider.
Williams realized, to his frustration, that he wasn’t in the path of totality after all.
They were 30 miles too far south.

After a subdued voyage back to Massachusetts, Williams tried to determine what had gone wrong.
Some astronomers, at the time and in following centuries, suggested his calculations of the path of totality were inaccurate.

Williams, however, had a different explanation.
In his report to the newly founded American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he blamed bad maps:
“The longitude of our place of observation agrees very well with what we had supposed in our calculations.
But the latitude is near half a degree less than what the maps of that country had led us to expect.”
Since half a degree of longitude corresponds to 30 nautical miles, this could explain why Williams ended up too far south.

Williams’ illustrations in his report of the eclipse.
‘Baily’s Beads’ are visible in Fig. VII on the upper right.
Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Although Samuel Williams missed seeing a total eclipse, his expedition was not a total failure.
While watching the narrow sliver of sun visible at 12:31, he noted it became “broken or separated into drops.”
These bright drops, known today as Baily’s Beads, are the result of the sun’s light shining through valleys and depressions along the moon’s visible edge.
They’re named in honor of astronomer Francis Baily; however, Baily saw and described the beads in 1836, nearly 56 years after Williams observed them.

Hard to observe with smoke in your eyes

Almost a century later, in 1871, English astronomer Norman Lockyer was eager to observe a total solar eclipse.

Three years earlier, he and French astronomer Jules Janssen had independently measured the spectrum of the sun’s chromosphere; to their surprise, they found an emission line in the yellow range of the spectrum, not corresponding to any known element.

The spectrum of helium: the bright yellow line at a wavelength of 587 nanometers (nm) is the emission line seen by Janssen and Lockyer.

Lockyer boldly claimed that the emission line was from a new element that he named “helium,” after the sun god Helios.
Realizing that eclipses offered a helpful opportunity to search for more undiscovered elements, Lockyer became a strong advocate of eclipse expeditions.
He knew the total solar eclipse of Dec.
12, 1871 would pass across southern India and persuaded the British Association for the Advancement of Science to sponsor an expedition.
Wishing to show that British rule in India was linked to scientific progress, the British government chipped in £2,000, and the P&O steamship company offered reduced fares to India for the eclipse hunters.

Lockyer’s voyage to India went smoothly.
(This could not be taken for granted; in 1870, on his way to view an eclipse from Italy, Lockyer was aboard a ship that ran aground off the east coast of Sicily.)
The team set up their instruments on a tower at Bekal Fort, on the southwest Indian coast.
The morning of Dec. 12, 1871 was cloudless.
Although Lockyer was suffering from a fever (and from the effects of the opium he was taking to treat it), he was ready.

Then, during the initial phases of the eclipse, he noted odd activity in the region below the fort.
Local inhabitants were gathering a huge pile of brushwood to fuel a bonfire; apparently, by creating a bright fire on Earth, they hoped to encourage the darkening sun to become bright again.
Lockyer was alarmed; the column of smoke would have risen directly between him and the eclipsed sun, ruining his observations.

Fortunately, the local superintendent of police happened to be present; he summoned a squadron of policemen who put out the fire and dispersed the crowd.
During the now smoke-free eclipse, Lockyer made valuable observations of the structure of the sun’s corona.

To see an eclipse you must see the sun

Jump ahead to the early 20th century.
The English Astronomer Royal Sir Frank Dyson was eager to view a total solar eclipse.
He didn’t have to travel far, since the eclipse of June 29, 1927 had a path of totality cutting across northern England, from Blackpool in the west to Hartlepool in the east.
As an eminent figure in the scientific establishment and a renowned expert on eclipses, Dyson had no trouble in commanding financial support for his eclipse observations.

What he could not command, however, was the famously fickle English weather.
During the month of June, northern England averages about seven hours of direct sunlight per day; however, this comes from a mix of weather that includes completely overcast days and completely cloudless days.
Dyson didn’t know what to expect.

After checking the weather records along the predicted eclipse path, Dyson decided to observe from the Yorkshire village of Giggleswick.
As he and his team prepared for the eclipse, the location choice initially seemed dubious; for two weeks before the eclipse, the sky was completely cloudy every afternoon, at the time of day when totality would occur on June 29.

Despite the grimly unpromising weather, crowds of hopeful people converged on the widely publicized eclipse path.
Railway companies ran special excursion trains, towns along the path of totality sponsored “eclipse dances” and newspapers offered “ecliptoglasses” to subscribers.

In the end, unfortunately, most viewers along the eclipse path were disappointed.
From the errant cloud that blocked the totally eclipsed sun from Blackpool Tower to the unbroken overcast sky at Hartlepool, the weather did not cooperate.
View of the totality at Gigglesworth, taken by Frank Dyson and his team.
Plate 8, Report of the Expeditions from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, to observe the Total Solar Eclipse of 1927 June 29.
Astronomer Royal, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 87, Issue 9, CC BY-NC-ND

Happily for Frank Dyson, however, the town of Giggleswick was nearly the only location along the eclipse path that had clear skies during totality.
The estimated 70,000 people who converged there, following the lead of the astronomer royal, also benefited from Dyson’s good luck.

After the eclipse, Dyson’s public statement was, by British standards, positively bubbly:
“The photographs have come out extremely well.
A very clear and striking eclipse.
Our observations went off very well indeed.”
Despite the difficulties posed by weather… and smoky bonfires… and dodgy maps… astronomers have always persevered in their quest to view eclipses.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

UKHO ensures safe arrival of aircraft carrier into Portsmouth

From Hydro

The United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO) supported the safe arrival of HMS 'Queen Elizabeth' into Portsmouth on 16 August 2017 by providing specialist marine geospatial and hydrographic expertise and data capabilities.

Following initial dredging operations to make Portsmouth’s navigation channel and entrance deeper, hydrographic data was collected by the survey launch HMS 'Gleaner' using multibeam echosounder technology to confirm the available water depth.

As well as providing advice during data collection, the final dataset was then validated by the UKHO to ensure it was the to the highest Category Zone of Confidence - a criteria used to determine the accuracy and data quality of seafloor coverage for safe navigation purposes.
The UKHO then used this information to update ADMIRALTY chart coverage of Portsmouth Harbour and Approaches, to support the safe arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Working in close collaboration with the Royal Navy, Queen’s Harbour Master and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, the UKHO also provided its wider marine geospatial expertise to prepare for the arrival, by providing detailed tidal stream predictions and supporting the placement of navigational aids.

MH370: satellite images show 'probably man-made' objects floating in sea

Reports prepared by Geoscience Australia and the CSIRO analyse French satellite imagery taken two weeks after the disappearance of MH370.
Photograph: Byrne Guy/Geoscience Australia

From The Guardian by Oliver Holmes

Drift analysis of debris reveals new coordinates for potential impact location

Australia has released satellite images it says show 12 “probably man-made” objects floating in the sea near the suspected crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

Taken two weeks after MH370 disappeared on 8 March 2014, the photos were analysed by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).
Its researchers used drift modelling of the debris to suggest a new potential location for the crash site — a 5,000 sq km (1930 sq miles) area just north of the former search zone.

 Drift modelling from the CSIRO report showing simulated trajectories of debris items over time from a single point of origin: at 35.6 degrees south and 92.8 degrees east.
Australia is on the right of the picture.
Photo: ATSB

Two Australian government agencies, Geoscience Australia and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), analysed the images, which were taken by a French military satellite but not released to the public.

The report said the detected objects appeared to form clusters, rather than being randomly scattered across the area.

The findings seemed to bolster the ATSB’s conclusion last November that the plane most likely crashed north of waters it spent more than two-and-a-half years searching.
The CSIRO report provided precise coordinates —35.6°S, 92.8°E.

images from Pleiades Astrium

The areas covered by four newly-analysed images thought to depict wreckage of MH370
The report said that the 35.6S, 92.8E location was the likely crash site, though two other possible candidates (34.7S, 92.6E and 35.3S, 91.8E) had been identified.
All are just outside the search area specified by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.  

Researchers said they had a “high degree of confidence” that the drift models of the debris pointed to an impact site within that area, a part of the Indian Ocean that was not searched.

Greg Hood, Chief Commissioner of the ATSB, said the reports “may be useful in informing any further search effort that may be mounted in the future” but called for caution.
“These objects have not been definitely identified as MH370 debris,” he said.
“The image resolution is not high enough to be certain whether the objects originated from MH370 or are other objects that might be found floating in oceans around the world.”

 Images of an object in the water

Source: French Military Intelligence Service

Regardless, the tantalising new information will reignite pressure to locate the passenger plane that vanished with 239 people aboard, one of aviation’s greatest mysteries.
The underwater search for the Boeing 777 in the southern Indian Ocean was suspended indefinitely in January to an outcry from families of the missing.

New area with the GeoGarage platform (AHS chart)

Investigators have used satellite data, radar tracking, and air traffic to estimate where MH370 plunged into the ocean.
Inexplicably, the jet’s communication systems were cut off early into the flight, and the pilot failed to check in with air traffic controllers.

The plane’s transponder, a vital radar system that broadcasts height and location information, also stopped transmitting.
Later, the 120,000 sq km (46,000 sq miles) search zone was determined along a curved line called the Seventh Arc, an area where the plan is considered to have exhausted its fuel.

More than a year after the plane disappeared, a 2.7m-long piece of metal covered in barnacles washed up on Réunion Island, more than 3,700km (2,300 miles) away from the main search site.
French investigators confirmed it was part of the missing aircraft.

Since then, more parts of the aircraft appear to have washed up on the east coast of Africa.

Malaysia, as the state of registry for the aircraft, retains overall authority and responsibility for any future search and has not indicated an interest in restarting it.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Freedom of navigation in the South China Sea : a pratical guide

From AMTI by Eleanor Freund (pdf report)

Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) are one of the principal tools by which the United States challenges maritime claims deemed excessive under international law.
Although the U.S. Navy has conducted FONOPs all over the world for nearly 40 years, recent operations began garnering unprecedented publicity as a point of friction with China in the contentious South China Sea disputes.
Since October 2015, the United States has conducted seven FONOPs that seek to challenge specific Chinese claims in the area.
Eleanor Freund of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs recently published a report on the FONOPs program that details exactly how the U.S.Navy challenged five of those seven claims (the report went to print before the most recent two operations), as well as explaining the purpose and utility of the program in the South China Sea.
AMTI has reproduced Freund’s charts illustrating each of the operations in chronological order, below.

U.S. Freedom of Navigation Operation #1

Date: October 27, 2015
Location: Spratly Islands (Subi Reef, Northeast Cay, Southwest Cay, South Reef, Sandy Cay)
Vessel: USS Lassen (DDG-82)
Excessive Maritime Claim: Requirement that states provide notice/obtain permission prior to innocent passage through territorial sea
Nature of Transit: Innocent passage

On October 27, 2015, the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Lassen conducted a freedom of navigation operation by transiting under innocent passage within 12 nautical miles of five features in the Spratly Islands—Subi Reef, Northeast Cay, Southwest Cay, South Reef, and Sandy Cay—each of which is claimed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
The freedom of navigation operation was designed to challenge policies by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam requiring prior permission or notification of transit under innocent passage in their territorial sea.
Accordingly, the United States did not provide notification, or request permission, in advance of transiting under innocent passage.

It should be noted, however, that none of these states has formally made a legal claim to a territorial sea around these features.
Indeed, no state has made any specific claims to the waters surrounding the features it occupies in the Spratly Islands.

In practice, however, they still require that states obtain permission or provide notice prior to transiting within 12 nautical miles, and these specific features would be legally entitled to a territorial sea.
As a result, the United States observed requirements of innocent passage during its transit.
The United States does not take a position on which nation has sovereignty over each feature in the Spratly Islands, and the operation was not intended to challenge any country’s claims of sovereignty over land features.

U.S. Freedom of Navigation Operation #2

Date: January 29, 2016
Location: Paracel Islands (Triton Island)
Vessel: USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54)
Excessive Maritime Claim: Requirement that states provide notice/obtain permission prior to innocent passage through territorial sea
Nature of Transit: Innocent passage

On January 29, 2016, the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur conducted a freedom of navigation operation by transiting under innocent passage within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracel Islands.
Triton Island is occupied by the Chinese, but also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.
The island is legally entitled to a territorial sea.
The freedom of navigation operation was designed to challenge policies by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam requiring prior permission or notification of transit under innocent passage in the territorial sea.
Accordingly, the United States did not provide notification, or request permission, in advance of transiting under innocent passage.
The United States does not take a position on which nation has sovereignty over each feature in the Spratly Islands, and the operation was not intended to challenge any country’s claims of sovereignty over land features.

U.S. Freedom of Navigation Operation #3

Date: May 10, 2016
Location: Spratly Islands (Fiery Cross Reef)
Vessel: USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110)
Excessive Maritime Claim: Requirement that states provide notice/obtain permission prior to innocent passage through territorial sea
Nature of Transit: Innocent passage

On May 10, 2016, the U.S. Navy destroyer USS William P. Lawrence conducted a freedom of navigation operation by transiting under innocent passage within 12 nautical miles of Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands.
Fiery Cross Reef is occupied by the Chinese, but also claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

At the time that the freedom of navigation operation was conducted, it was unclear if Fiery Cross Reef was legally considered a rock or an island.
Moreover, none of the claimant states has formally made a legal claim to a territorial sea surrounding Fiery Cross Reef.
Nevertheless, because Fiery Cross Reef is legally entitled to a territorial sea, irrespective of whether it is a rock or island, the United States transited within 12 nautical miles of Fiery Cross Reef under the provisions of innocent passage.
When the decision in the Philippines v. China case was issued in July 2016, Fiery Cross Reef was found to be a rock.7

As in the previous two examples, this freedom of navigation operation was designed to challenge policies by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam requiring prior permission or notification of transit under innocent passage in the territorial sea.
Accordingly, the United States did not provide notification, or request permission, in advance of transiting under innocent passage.
The United States does not take a position on which nation has sovereignty over each feature in the Spratly Islands, and the operation was not intended to challenge any country’s claims of sovereignty over land features.

U.S. Freedom of Navigation Operation #4

Date: October 21, 2016
Location: Paracel Islands
Vessel: USS Decatur (DDG-73)
Excessive Maritime Claim: Excessive straight baseline claims
Nature of Transit: Sailing on the high seas

The fourth freedom of navigation operation, conducted on October 21, 2016, differed from the three previous freedom of navigation operations in that it did not challenge the illegal requirement that states provide notification or obtain permission prior to transiting through another state’s territorial sea under innocent passage.
Rather, it challenged excessive straight baseline claims made by China around the Paracel Islands.
The Paracel Islands are occupied by the Chinese, but also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

Baselines are the point from which the territorial sea, contiguous zone, and exclusive economic zone are measured.
Generally speaking, they exist at the low-water line along the coast.

On May 15, 1996, China issued a statement establishing straight baselines around the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
The purported straight baselines, drawn between 28 basepoints, enclose the Paracel Islands in their entirety.

Straight baselines are important because—where they are established legally—they become the point from which a state can measure the breadth of its territorial sea, the contiguous zone, and other claimed maritime zones.
By drawing straight baselines around the Paracel Islands, China claimed the entire enclosed area as part of its sovereign waters as well as a 12 nautical mile territorial sea surrounding the enclosed area.

The United States does not recognize China’s straight baselines claim around the Paracel Islands for the reason that UNCLOS allows only archipelagic states (i.e. countries comprised entirely of islands) to draw straight baselines around island groups.
China, as a continental state, cannot claim such a right.

On October 21, 2016, the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Decatur conducted a freedom of navigation operation by crossing China’s claimed straight baselines in the Paracel Islands, loitering in the area, and conducting maneuvering drills.
The USS Decatur did not approach within 12 nautical miles of any individual land feature entitled to a territorial sea; rather, it sailed in the area between the outer limits of the 12 nautical mile territorial seas and China’s claimed straight baselines.
In doing so, the USS Decatur crossed into waters that would be considered China’s internal waters if its straight baseline claims were legal, which they are not.
(Internal waters are accorded the rights of the territorial sea.)

Because the USS Decatur loitered and conducted maneuvering drills, which cannot be considered continuous and expeditious passage, it signaled that it was not transiting under innocent passage and did not consider the waters to be part of the territorial sea.
(Remember, innocent passage requires continuous and expeditious transit through another state’s territorial waters. See pages 12–14 and 19–20 for further elaboration on this point.)
In doing so, it deliberately challenged China’s claim of straight baselines around the Paracel Islands.

U.S. Freedom of Navigation Operation #5

Date: May 24, 2017
Location: Spratly Islands (Mischief Reef)
Vessel: USS Dewey (DDG-105)
Excessive Maritime Claim: Unclear, presumed illegal territorial sea
Nature of Transit: Sailing on the high seas

On May 24, 2017, the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Dewey conducted a freedom of navigation operation by transiting within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands.
Mischief Reef is occupied by the Chinese, but also claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
When the Permanent Court of Arbitration issued the decision in Philippines v. China, it found Mischief Reef to be a low-tide elevation.
For that reason, Mischief Reef is not legally entitled to a territorial sea.

The USS Dewey navigated within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef and proceeded to sail in a zigzag pattern.
It also conducted a “man overboard” drill.
Both actions were clear indications that the USS Dewey did not intend to transit under innocent passage.
(Remember, innocent passage requires continuous and expeditious transit through another state’s territorial waters. Sailing in a zigzag pattern and conducting a man overboard drill are both violations of this condition. See pages 12–14 and 19–20 for further elaboration on this point.)
Presumably then, the freedom of navigation operation was intended to challenge the existence of an illegal territorial sea around Mischief Reef by sailing within 12 nautical miles of the feature in a manner not in accordance with innocent passage.

Complicating the operation, however, is the fact that neither China, the Philippines, Taiwan, nor Vietnam has actually claimed a territorial sea around Mischief Reef.
This raises the question: what excessive maritime claim was the United States actually challenging? If the United States was not disputing an existing excessive maritime claim, then its actions would be more accurately described as sailing on the high seas than as a freedom of navigation operation.
Unfortunately, the Pentagon has not explained the legal rationale behind the operation so the intent of the USS Dewey’s operation remains unclear.

As was true in prior examples, the United States does not take a position on which nation has sovereignty over each feature in the Spratly Islands, and the operation was not intended to challenge any country’s claims of sovereignty over land features.

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